May 21, 2017


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Lot 215: Emerson Woelffer


Lot 215: Emerson Woelffer


c. 1993
Acrylic on canvas
Canvas: 14" x 11"
Retains paper label that bears the inscription "Est 169" verso
Provenance: The estate of Emerson Woelffer
Estimate: $2,000 - $3,000
Price Realized: $2,812
Inventory Id: 25214

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About the Scholarship Fund and Otis College of Art and Design: The Scholarship Fund provides vital scholarship funding to many Otis College students who are promising young artists and designers, but who would be unable to complete their education without this support. Established in 1918, Otis College offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in a wide variety of visual and applied arts, media, and design. Core programs in liberal arts, business practices, and community-driven projects support the College’s mission to prepare diverse students to enrich our world through their creativity, skill, and vision. As Los Angeles’ first professional art school, visionary alumni and faculty include MacArthur and Guggenheim grant recipients, Oscar awardees, and design stars at Apple, Anthropologie, Pixar, Mattel, and more. The renowned Creative Action program has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for Community Engagement, and the Otis Report on the Creative Economy is a powerful advocacy tool for creative industries. The College serves the Greater Los Angeles Area through compelling public programming, as well as year-round Continuing Education courses for all ages. More information is available at\r

A self-described “abstract surrealist,” the painter, collagist, and teacher Emerson Woelffer (1914–2003) was in many ways the very ideal of a postwar American artist. His distinctive style of Abstract Expressionism was inflected by his many and varied interests and experiences. He was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago before becoming employed in the WPA artist’s program and then as a teacher at László Moholy-Nagy’s Institute of Design in Chicago. Woelffer also lived and worked for a period in Mexico and in Italy; played jazz drums; and collected ethnographic art as well as cars. A close friend of Robert Motherwell and Buckminster Fuller, he was invited to teach at the storied Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1949. Woelffer came to Los Angeles a decade later and, upon taking a position as an instructor at the Chouinard Art Institute, became mentor to an impressive roster of devoted students that included Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode, and Charles Arnoldi.

Emerson Woelffer’s work is both erudite and intuitive; his personal style cosmopolitan, cool, and casual. He was inspired by the Surrealists’ notion of “automatism”—painting unconsciously and without intention—and by free-form jazz improvisation. Marked by runes and ciphers—Xs, Os, and seeming proto-numbers and -letters—many of his canvases suggest primitive pictographs. His work was shaped, too, by the environments which surrounded him, and his move to Southern California prompted a discernable shift to bolder, brighter colors in his paintings.

Certainly one of Woelffer’s most enduring legacies is the inspiration he gave his students. Not long after Woelffer’s death, Ed Ruscha curated a survey of his work at the California Institute of the Arts’s REDCAT Gallery. Woelffer taught that “art was simply a thing to be practiced rather than studied. Paint a picture rather than study about the painting of a picture,” Ruscha wrote for the catalogue to that exhibit. “He could get you to dive into the pool without ever using the word dive or the word pool or the words into the.”\r

Ruscha, Ed, and Gerald Nordland. Emerson Woelffer: A Solo Flight. Valencia, CA: REDCAT, California Institute of the Arts, 2003. Print. Drohojowska-Philp, Hunter. Emerson Woelffer: Selections from a Career. Manny Silverman Gallery. Los Angeles. 2014. Print.